Simeon Williams '21: Steven Plax Thanksgiving Address

During assembly on Tuesday, November 24, Simeon Williams ’21 delivered the annual Thanksgiving Assembly remarks. For many years, the senior class has selected someone from their class to make this address. Last year, this long-standing tradition was named to honor and remember past parent and grandparent Steve Plax. In his introduction, Mr. Abbott noted that in 2018, when Dr. Plax’s memorial service was held at Burroughs, it was clear that while his accomplishments were indisputable, what everyone remembered about Dr. Plax was his warmth. Over the years, speakers have had varied styles and accomplishments and messages, but all embodied the same qualities that set Dr. Plax apart—humility, integrity, gratitude and most importantly, kindness. 

Here is a video of Simeon's remarks, followed by a transcript. 

Good morning, everyone.

First, I just want to say I’m extremely humbled and honored to be a part of such an amazing group of people in the class of 2021. Thank you to all of my classmates for giving me this opportunity to be the Thanksgiving speaker this year. I can’t thank you all enough for supporting me, inspiring me and loving me every day.

Now I could easily go into detail about my family’s normal Thanksgiving Day festivities or how superior my Uncle Zack’s mac ‘n’ cheese is, or even how, at least in my family, the regular baked turkey is just for show… 

Because I know that everyone knows… that it’s all about the fried turkey with that Cajun seasoning.

However, it really is an unprecedented time, and instead I want to talk about how COVID has changed my perspective on what I’m thankful for, and what I think y’all should be more thankful for. 

Many people may not know this, but a little over five years ago to this month, my grandfather died from kidney failure. I distinctly remember not knowing how to react, or what to say to my family. It was exactly a week till my birthday. I was still trying to make new friends, and not to mention I was still trying to actually survive 7th grade. 

I could go and tell so many stories about a man who served in the army, or who had a life of service as a postal carrier, or who taught me about politics, or who gave me my love for music. But when I look back on the time I was so blessed to be able to spend with my grandfather, it wasn’t anything special; it was simply ways in which he taught me how to be a genuine human being. I distinctly remember him taking me to get one of the most underrated meals in American food culture… 

Y’all ready?

Burger King chicken fries. 

Every time he would talk to one of the employees, he’d first ask them how they were doing. Then, after either paying for or getting our food, if they didn’t tell him to have a nice day, he’d tell them thank you and have a great day. If they told him to have a nice day, he’d tell them to have a better one. And he meant it. Now to some people (I won’t name names), asking people how they’re doing implies that you have to actually care, especially if they respond with something other than good. But to me, those simple questions and phrases signify something greater. It was not until writing about my grandfather five years later that I saw what he was trying to instill into me. Those are the values of gratitude and love. You never know what people may be going through, especially working 9-to-5 jobs, or maybe just dealing with the daily struggles of life. So asking someone how they’re doing, saying thank you, and wishing them a great day go a long way. As my grandmother always tells me, people don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care. 

My grandfather was someone I looked up to, and according to my mom and my grandmother we shared similar tendencies. They say that neither one of us admits when we’re wrong… But that’s not true… Okay… I’m working on that one, while always aspiring to share his greatest quality: being someone who values manners and gratitude. 

I’ve missed my grandfather at every Thanksgiving since he passed. But in Thanksgiving 2020, I’m thinking about him and the lessons he taught me in a different way. Thanksgiving 2020 is making everyone see the world a little differently. 

Some people in this time of pandemic are thankful for technology and things like Netflix and Facetime (I’m guilty of that). Or of actually being able to see people’s faces and their smiles. Or going to restaurants. Or even a simple handshake. However, what I’ve realized is that no matter how many times your family, or teachers, or whoever it is, tells you that family is the most important thing in this world to value, to cherish and to be thankful for, they’re completely right. Family are the people who love you, who encourage you, who support you, and who are there for you in unprecedented times like this. And if there’s anything I’ve learned going through this pandemic is that these people that I know I love and that I can call family are the most important to me.

I’ve also come to learn that they’re people who are not always in my immediate family or my blood. They’re my classmates, they’re my coaches. They’re my teachers. And they’re my friends. One personal example of something that I have become more thankful for during the pandemic and that embraces this idea of family is the game of football.

Although I tell myself differently, I definitely took the past 3 years of my football career for granted. When people say the bond you build with your brothers in the game of football is unlike any other, believe them. The relationships I’ve built with my fellow seniors, past teammates, the underclassmen this year, and the coaches are some that I will cherish forever. I had always heard about the tradition and reputation of our football program with all the state titles and current NFL players like Zeke and Foye. But I honestly just let it pass by me until I got to experience it for myself. Beyond all the titles, banners, and plaques, Coach Merritt always stressed the life lessons that the game of football teaches us. Most important is the concept of family and loving each other. Obviously, it’s something that other sports or other ventures may teach you, but in football it’s the most important element of the game and the real key to winning. I wasn’t ever the best receiver, the best defensive back, or even the best returner, but I knew that because my teammates and my coaches loved me and believed in me, I would be able to contribute to us winning. And we did. I was so blessed to be a part of a historic group of seniors who put this program back where it belongs, with two winning seasons and our first district championship appearance in 5 years. 

Then… about two weeks ago, I got some of the most heartbreaking news of my life. As soon as I got home, there were a bunch of texts saying how thankful some of my teammates were to have us as their seniors. I didn’t really know what to say or what to think. At that moment, I thought our season was over. My heart dropped. The thought of never being able to go out there on the field with my boys was hard to fathom, and something I didn’t imagine myself having to think about until we won this year’s state championship. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. There was no doubt that I felt melancholy. The only thing that I could think about was our football season. 

You’d think that by that time I’d realize how something so meaningful could be stripped so quickly with this pandemic, but never did I imagine it happening to my team, to my family. Not being able to play in our last game, and watching my brothers fight till the end was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. Despite that, it offered me the chance to see what my team meant to me, what family means to me.

I know I don’t know what it feels like to have had someone I love die from Covid. And I know this year by any standards quite frankly has been pretty awful. But if there’s one thing I’ve taken away from 2020 is that it’s offered an opportunity for a new perspective. I’ve learned to take time to think, to reflect, to just sit down for once. Then and only then was I able to see what matters most to me, and what I think should matter most to everyone. And that’s family. I can say with full confidence that I’ll miss my Uncle’s mac ‘n’ cheese this year...Cause the lord knows, my dad will not be able to replicate that. 

I will say, at Thanksgiving 2020, I’ll continue to be thankful for my grandfather and those I call my family. To say the least, I wonder what new things I’ll learn to be more thankful for between now and Thanksgiving 2021. I can say with absolute certainty that I’m beyond blessed, grateful, and thankful for my family here at John Burroughs and all my classmates in the class of 2021. 

Not only have we learned and grown together, but my classmates have always been by my side. They’ve always encouraged me, supported me, and loved me. This is why I call the class of 2021 my family, and it’s why I implore everyone to remember that having your loved ones, having your family, makes life worth living. 

Thank you.